Flex close to liftoff, despite challenges

Uber-style app hampered by red tape and restrictions

When two young Caymanian entrepreneurs set up transport app, Flex, their vision was to bring an Uber-style service to the Caribbean.

More than two years later, after navigating red tape and government restrictions, they believe they are close to liftoff.

Rachel Smyth said the aim of Flex was to make hailing a ride easier, cheaper and swifter. The app is designed to bring transparency to prices and allow people to book and pay for a trip using their smartphones.

The business has been hampered, however, by a requirement that it only use drivers who are licensed as taxi operators by the Public Transport Board. It must also stick to the prices outlined by the board.

“This has posed a huge challenge for us because we have a limited pool of drivers to get onboard with Flex,” she said.

“Many of the existing drivers have also been caught in the traditional system for too long. We have had pushback from them with regards to introducing new technology.”

Faced with those challenges, Smyth and her business partner Alex Cowan switched gears and began encouraging young Caymanians interested in becoming drivers to go through the application and testing process with the Public Transport Board.

However, they encountered what she describes as a cumbersome system, and many became discouraged. Quota limits on the number of public transport permits issued have also prevented the business from licensing a large pool of drivers.

Despite those challenges, they have pressed ahead and are in the final stages of testing the ‘live app’, and hope to announce a launch date shortly.

Smyth believes Flex could help with congestion by increasing availability and ease of public transport. She said the business was strategising over a carpool option that could make further inroads on the issue.

“We have put a lot of thought and consideration into not only our visitors and tourists but we have geared the apps towards locals to assist in traffic congestion and lessen drinking and driving on the roads.”

She said the business sought to address some of the main concerns people had about public transport, including a lack of transparency and consistency over prices.

Apps like Flex also allow users to GPS track their journey and make sure they are travelling the best possible route.

“The reliability of knowing that, in fact, a driver is on their way to pick you up is also a huge plus along with a five-star rating system after your trip, which allows riders and drivers to rate each other establishing that accountability between parties,” Smyth said.

Cayman has been slow to embrace the technological revolution in transit that is changing how people get around, she added.

“Ride-sharing apps are a norm all over the world and as a country considered to be a leader in the financial industry, we would hope to be able to keep up to the times and offer a service which has simplified life for many.”

Still she remains optimistic that Flex, even with a reduced pool of drivers and government fare regulations, can make a difference in Cayman.

“More people will start to feel comfortable with the system and we are hopeful that this would lead to less importation of vehicles onto our tiny little island further improving congestion problems,” Smyth said.

More info at www.flex.ky

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